"The Kennedy Space Center allows you to get closer to NASA than anywhere else on the planet"

Captain Jon McBride, Former NASA Astronaut

Some experiences are out of this world, The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, situated on Florida's 'Space Coast', takes that turn of phrase very, very literally. We were lucky enough to sit down with Captain Jon McBride, a Former NASA astronaut who spent 197 hours in space piloting the STS-41 which launched from the Kennedy Space Center in 1984. Joining him, Rebecca Shireman, Public Relations & Communications Manager at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, gives us a taste of what's in store when visiting the place where minds young and old are ignited by the final frontier.

TTG: Can you give us an idea of your day-to-day role at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex?

JMc: It is not repetitive! I schedule 40 different astronauts during the year to be here at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. I also serve as an ambassador, speaking at events all over the world.

TTG: And Rebecca, how about yourself what does a typical day look like for you around the Visitor Center?

RS: There is no typical day here. We’re an active space port so any day you could see a rocket launch, a piece of a rocket coming in and out, it’s basically the closest you can get to NASA. Our tour buses allow access to the restricted areas of the center enabling you to see launch pads, vehicle assembly and where United Launch Alliance is operating.

"Jon is what makes us really true to the NASA story."

- Rebecca Shireman

TTG: Jon, you’ve had a storied career through the United States Navy as well as piloting a mission to space on behalf of NASA, what were some of the highlights from your time working with NASA?

JMc: Being part of the selection of the first class of astronauts. There were 35 of us, the largest class that included scientists, engineers and pilots. Then, getting to fly with a crew of seven on the space shuttle.

TTG: What does Jon’s experiences bring to the Visitor Center, Rebecca? It sounds like he’s no ordinary tour guide

RS: It’s obviously an asset, and allows visitors to have a one of a kind experience. Jon pioneered the idea of having the astronauts here and has led the program to what it is today. Any day that a visitor is here they can meet an astronaut. It really is an experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the world, every single day of the year.

Jon was also instrumental in building the Mars rover concept vehicle, questioning what it would be like, considering what type of things an astronaut would look for in a Mars rover and what type of comforts they would look for. Jon is what makes us really true to the NASA story.

Captain Jon A. McBride shakes hands with a young guest

TTG: What can visitors expect from a trip to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex?

JMc: The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex allows you to get closer to NASA than anywhere else on the planet. Don’t expect to see it all in one day. You need two days or more. It gets bigger and better every year. You can stand nose-to-nose with a real space shuttle, get an up-close look at the spacecraft that took us to new frontiers and maybe even see a rocket launch.

TTG: With so much to see and do, are there any must see exhibitions or areas that you can recommend?

RS: I think different exhibitions appeal to different generations. The men and women who remember the moon landing love the Apollo 5 Center. People who grew up seeing the space shuttle launch can’t go through Space Shuttle Atlantis and not shed a tear when they see that vehicle. It’s amazing to see it up close, you can see the burn marks, it gives me goosebumps just talking about it because I remember watching the shuttle launches.

TTG: What does the Astronaut Programme involves for visitors?

JMc: Guests have the opportunity to meet an astronaut every day of the year at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The Astronaut Encounter program began with just one day per week and now we have 40 different astronauts who participate, inspiring the next generation of space explorers.

TTG: What about the meet astronaut experience, what can visitors expect from this?

RS: Visitors are able to hear astronauts share their experiences about what their flights were like, what the food is like and what their everyday life was like on board the shuttle and at the space station. Visitors are also able to have lunch with an astronaut which includes a presentation and guests can have photos taken with the astronauts.

TTG: The space race is arguably now in its second iteration, with private companies such as SpaceX pouring time and resources into space exploration. How do you think this is inspiring the next generation of astronauts and what is the Kennedy Space Center doing to support this?

JMc: There is a renewed vibrancy here. All the companies and organizations work closely together and you can see it all here – the gateway to NASA’s past, present and bold future.

"There is a renewed vibrancy here...[this is] the gateway to NASA’s past, present and bold future."

- Captain Jon A. McBride

TTG: How close can visitors get to the SpaceX operations and is it possible for visitors to view launches when they happen?

RS: We offer the closest public viewing for launches at Kennedy Space Center. Depending on the launch pad the launch is taking place on, we have particular areas from a few miles to maybe seven miles away. It’s definitely one of those life experiences that you won’t forget and we’re expecting over 40 launches this year alone so there’s always a good opportunity to see one.

TTG: The new training centre at the Visitor Center allows visitors to actually train to become an astronaut in preparation for a ‘mission’ to Mars. How realistic is this training?

JMc: We haven’t been to Mars yet but this training is based on the latest information we have. It uses immersive simulation technology to train participants to live and work in the harshest environment of Mars, and teaches them what it’s like to travel to the Red Planet, using real NASA science to address engineering challenge.

TTG: It sounds like this is no ordinary day out at the museum

RS: We like to think so. We want people to understand and to really see and feel space. You’re not just looking at an old artefact, you’re understanding how that artefact led to the next rocket and generation following that. There really is something for everyone and everyone connects differently. Seeing the space flown vehicles definitely connects people to the [NASA] story. We do it in a unique way which you don’t see everyday. You can really see the accomplishments that went along with these space flown vehicles.

TTG: Why do you think space still interests people after all these years?

JMc: It is the great unknown and that captures people’s interest. We’ve only been as far as the Moon. There’s still lots to explore.

TTG: Do you have any advice for budding young astronauts?

JMc: Come to the Visitor Complex where you can feel and experience space. Every day, you can come face-to-face with veteran astronauts and better understand space through their eyes.

Meet an astronaut and ask questions! Study hard in school. This is the place where the mission for exploration is still alive and thriving with the next generation of space explorers.

What advice would give someone who is visiting Orlando for the very first time, what would you tell him or her to see/do/eat?

RS: Getting off the beaten path is always my recommendation. Cocoa beach is a great place to visit, you can see all of the history of the space program and the restaurants where astronauts would eat when they were training. The nature that the coast has to offer is quite amazing as well, you can see manatees, you can kayak, surf and there is 72 miles of beaches, so close to Orlando but quite different!